Dale Houghton: Owls fan says regret over 'callous' Bradley Lowery photo taunt will be 'life-long'
Judge Waite described much-missed Bradley Lowery as a brave young man who was rightly held in 'highest esteem by football fans everywhere'.
and live on Freeview channel 276
A 'callous' and 'disrespectful' Sheffield Wednesday fan who weaponised the tragic demise of a much-missed cancer victim has walked away from court with a suspended sentence.
Despite claims that his regret for taunting Sunderland supporters with a picture of Bradley Lowery would be 'life-long,' 32-year-old Dale Houghton remained silent and walked quickly away from Sheffield Magistrates' Court when he was asked whether he had anything he wished to say to Bradley's family at the conclusion of his sentencing hearing this afternoon (Friday, November 17, 2023). On the way into court, however, Houghton said he was 'extremely sorry' for his actions.
Houghton had held a Sheffield Wednesday season ticket for some 25 years, when, during a Championship clash with the Black Cats at Hillsborough on September 29, 2023, he made the decision to respond to what he described as 'standard football banter' by laughing as he held up a picture on his phone of Bradley, who was just six-years-old when he passed away from neuroblastoma cancer in 2017.
In a statement read to the court, Bradley's mother, Gemma Lowery said Bradley was 'the light of our life for six years,' adding that she had been left feeling 'very upset' after learning about the incident.
She said Houghton's actions were not just 'disrespectful' to Bradley, but he had also 'caused emotional turmoil to other ill children'.
District Judge Marcus Waite told Houghton that in addition to adding to the 'trauma' of a 'grieving' family, his 'utterly appalling' and 'disgraceful' behaviour also risked provoking a 'more serious' response from those in attendance.
Judge Waite described Bradley as a brave young man who was rightly held in 'highest esteem by football fans everywhere'.
Relaying Houghton's account to police during interview, Mark Hughes, prosecuting, said Houghton, of Black Carr Road, Wickersley, Rotherham, told officers that prior to committing the public order offence, insults had been swapped between himself and the 200 Sunderland fans who were sat in an adjacent stand.
Mr Hughes said Houghton subsequently showed the block of fans a picture on his phone bearing the badge of their local football rivals, Newcastle United; and they responded in kind by holding up a picture of Sheffield United's badge.
"He accepts that he then went too far, and showed them a picture of Bradley on his phone," Mr Hughes said, adding that Houghton told police he brought up the picture of Bradley after 'Googling it'.
Mr Hughes continued: "He said the Sunderland fans were very angry, but he wasn't aware of the full extent of the backlash. He said his team were two-nil down, and he left and went drinking around Hillsborough."
A picture of Houghton holding the image of Bradley aloft 'began circulating' on X, formerly known as Twitter, a short time later, said Mr Hughes.
Wednesday fans were united with Sunderland supporters in their condemnation of Houghton's behaviour, and Mr Hughes said SWFC's then-chief operating officer, Liam Dooley, began 'distancing himself' from Houghton's behaviour as the details of the offending emerged.
Speaking at the time, Mr Dooley said Wednesday was a 'family friendly club' and Houghton's 'outrageous' and 'utterly deplorable' actions were in no way 'reflective of the values of the club'.
Houghton was subsequently charged with, and pleaded guilty to, an offence of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress by displaying any writing, sign or other visible representation, which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
Defending, Connie Coombs said Houghton wished to express his 'deep remorse, certainly to Bradley's family, but also to the general public'.
"It was a moment of utter stupidity in the context of back-and-forth between himself and the Sunderland fans." "He believes his regret will be life-long," Ms Coombs continued.
She told the court that in the six weeks since committing the offence, he had lost his job as a window fitter, and in his efforts to remain in work, he had also lost a second job with Next, after the firm was made aware of these court proceedings.
In addition, Ms Coombs said Houghton's relationships with his girlfriend and friends had suffered as a consequence of his offending, and he had also been forced to stay away from the family home due to 'fear of reprisals'.
Judge Waite sentenced Houghton to 12 weeks' custody, and said that while he felt a custodial sentence was 'inevitable' he would suspend it for 18 months.
He said he felt able to pass a suspended sentence due to Houghton's 'genuine remorse,' his limited criminal record - consisting solely of driving matters - the fact he believed this offending to be 'out of character' and the steps he had taken to address his offending behaviour, which included voluntarily engaging with Rotherham drug alcohol services.
Houghton also received a five-year football banning order and was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work, a 20-day rehabilitation activity requirement and to pay total costs of £239.